The Euro 2008 started on a high note with Switzerland playing against the Czech Republic in the opener. The initial 12 days of action saw teams of the four groups battling it out for the eight places in the quarterfinals. The teams that made it to the quarterfinals included Portugal, Turkey, Croatia, Germany, Netherlands, Italy, Spain and Russia.
The shock of the tournament was without doubt France’s elimination in the ‘Group of Death’, while there were no standout surprises, although Turkey’s miraculous back-to-back comeback wins to earn their place in the last eight certainly came against the odds.
The first quarterfinal, took place in Basel between Portugal, Group A winners and Group B runners-up Germany. The match started, and both sides made their intentions clear in the early stages. In the 22nd minute, a searching cross from Podolski found Schweinsteiger who opened the score for Germany with his gusto élan! 4 Minutes later, a floating free kick by Schweinsteiger was headed home by Klose, much to the despair of the Portugese.
Just before the interval, Nuno Gomes scored for Portugal to reduce the deficit to a solitary goal. The first half ended with the score at 2-1 for Germany, who had settled better and got a serious advance after two quick goals.
Portugal looked sharp in the second half. But Germany’s superb marking of star playmaker Cristiano Ronaldo kept the Portugese at bay. Ballack then scored a third goal for his team on a header to stretch Germany’s lead to a seemingly unassailable 3-1.
With the match nearing its close, Portugal tried everything to score but the German defence kept repelling all the balls, and while everything seemed lost for them, Postiga scored a second goal to put his team one goal down.
Portuguese team tried to pour forward and press to get the equalizer as they sensed a glimmer of hope, but the match ended on the same score, and Germany progressed to the semi-finals after defeating Portugal 3-2.
The second quarterfinal played in Vienna between Turkey and Croatia was undoubtedly one of the best matches of Euro 2008.
A match which had started brightly, brimming with passion and commitment, descended into a stalemate only to be salvaged by two dramatic injury-time goals and then, finally, by the cruelty of a penalty shootout.
The first half saw a number of attacks from the Croatians, but all in vain. The second half witnessed no goals either!
The first goal came in the 119th minute of extra time by Klasnic, putting Croatia in front .With just a minute left, Croatians were all but certain of a win. But turkey often termed as the “Kings of Comeback” staged a dramatic return yet again with a stunning goal by Semih in the dying seconds of the match.
Off went the match into a penalty shootout. Turkey held their nerve here, to win 3-1 much to the ecstasy of Turkish fans. Turkey’s path to its first Euro Semifinal could not have been scripted better.
The third quarterfinal between Russia and Netherlands at Basel was another thriller. Netherlands were probably the best side of the tournament and their duel with the inspired Russians promised to be a cracking game. The match started on an attacking note with Russia going on the offensive sooner than later. The return of the mercurial Andrei Arshavin provided the much needed edge to the Russian attack. The Dutch created several opportunities as well but poor finishing kept them from scoring. The most glaring miss was that by Van Nistelrooy who failed to tap in a superbly taken free kick by Van de Vaart. The Dutch attack paled soon with the tactical brilliance of Russia being instrumental in smothering Dutch playmakers Sneijder and Van de Vaart.
In the meantime, Dutch keeper Van de Sar was made to work overtime by the Russians. The pressure finally paid of when Sergei Semak broke free down the left and crossed low for the Spartak Moscow striker Arshavin to side foot a volley home left-footed. The Dutch were tested for the first time and they had their title credentials questioned. The introduction of Van Persie provided the much needed injection of pace and the Dutch managed to equalise in the 86th minute through a Van Nistelrooy header.
So to extra time it went, with Russia holding the whip hand, their superior fitness telling. Dmitri Torbinski and Andrei Arshavin scored in the second half of extra time as Russia powered past the Dutch 3-1.
The fourth quarterfinal to decide the last semifinal spot, pitted world champions Italy against effervescent Spain. The David Villa-Fernando Torres strike force ensured the match would not be short of excitement.
Neither side really got into their stride during the first half although David Villa’s powerful free-kick towards the far post forced Buffon into action. Spain were on the front foot after the re-start but the Italian defence soaked up the pressure admirably well. However, it was Italy who had the best chance of the game in the 62nd minute with Camoranesi’s close-range strike forcing Casillas to make a desperate save with his feet after confusion in the box. With both sides taking a defensive approach towards the end, the match headed towards penalties with the score remaining 0-0 after 120 minutes of absorbing football
The penalty shootout was another humdinger with the fates of both sides lying solely in the hands of their goalkeepers. It was always going to be Casillas vs Buffon and it was the former who came out triumphant. Iker Casillas saved spot-kicks from Daniele De Rossi and Antonio Di Natale before Cesc Fabregas slid the winning penalty past Gianluigi Buffon to put Spain into the semis. The final scoreline reading 4-2 in favour of Spain.
The semifinal lineup hence stands as following: Germany v/s Turkey and Russia v/s Spain. The best four teams will fight it out for pride and glory as millions of fans will eagerly await the crowning of the “Champions of Europe”.
Given the thrilling quarters, the semifinals promise even more nerve wrecking excitement. Euro fever is reaching its peak and it comes with a statutory health warning “not meant for the faint hearted”!